Barum Park, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Cornell University, won an award to fund by the National Science Foundation's Division of Social and Economic Sciences. “Collaborative Research: How online foci shape conversation” is a research project done in collaboration with Byungkyu Lee, Assistant Professor at Indiana University, and Mark Hoffman, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Stanford University. The grant will fund the project $352,000 over three years.
This project investigates the characteristics of online communities that shape the quality of their conversations. Social media sites are not homogeneous; they are made up of online “foci” of interaction -- online communities like groups, blogs, and discussion forums characterized by their stability and bounded nature. In certain foci, conversations are friendly and constructive, in others, hostile and unproductive. The goal of this study is to understand how the different characteristics of online foci — their cultures, moderation policies, attitudes towards outsiders, and social relationships — influence the quality of their conversations. Findings will advance scientific knowledge to improve a democratic society and help scholars and practitioners imagine and design a more inclusive and democratic online public sphere.
This study leverages a large-scale multilevel dataset that covers all public conversations that unfolded during a major campaign across 1,058 topical forums on a popular platform. The data consist of 1.2 billion comments, 8.2 billion reactions to posts, and 2.6 billion reactions to comments among three hundred million users across 7.5 million posts. In addition, the project collects labeled comments to train machine learning models that measure and predict whether comments are deliberative according to two core dimensions: the civility of conversations and meaningful cross-ideological interactions. These data, in conjunction with recent methodological advances in the analysis of quasi-experimental designs, social network analysis, natural language processing, and multilevel modeling strategies, are used to identify the characteristics of online foci that foster cross-ideological interaction and civil discourse and to understand the role online foci play in moderating the impact of divisive, exogenous social events. This project is supported jointly by the Sociology, Methodology, Measurement, and Statistics, Human Networks and Data Science-Research, and Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace Programs.
Go to the grant link here